Congratulations 2017 Al Kessel Award Winners!
We are pleased to announce that Oleson’s Food Stores and Lipari Foods are the 2017 Al Kessel Outstanding Achievement Award winners! The awards honor former MGA Director Al Kessel, who passed away in 2012. Al was the founder of the Flint-based Kessel Food Market chain. To reflect his generous spirit, the awards recognize the achievements of one Outstanding Retailer and one Outstanding Business Partner. Winners are selected each year by a 12-member committee.
2017 Outstanding Retailer Oleson’s Food Stores: Celebrating 91 years in business, Oleson’s started in 1926 when Gerald “Jerry” and Frances Oleson took over a small store in Traverse City from Jerry’s dad, Nels. Known to most people as “Mr. O,” Jerry believed in no titles and hard work. He was known to carry index cards in his shirt pocket; when he heard something he liked or thought of something he wanted to remember, he wrote it down. Sons Jerry and Don grew up working in the store, taking on more responsibility after graduating from college and eventually adding more stores. Today, Don is President; his son DJ is Vice President. Having joined MGA in 1934, Oleson’s Food Stores has the distinction of being the Association’s oldest member. DJ is a current MGA Board Director and former Chairman. He is part of Oleson’s fourth generation along with his brother Brad and cousin Marty Watts. A fifth generation is also involved in the company, which now has four stores in Traverse City, Petoskey, and Charlevoix.
Oleson’s shows great entrepreneurial spirit in owning a large buffalo herd that provides natural buffalo meat to the stores and several restaurants. In addition, the family and staff care about their community and give back in a big way. Since 1956, Oleson’s has donated all the food as well as thousands of hours of time for the annual Northwestern Michigan College BBQ to raise money for scholarships, equipment, and much more. In 1962, Gerald and Frances started the Oleson Foundation, designed to continually perform good works in Northern Michigan. The Foundation grants close to a million dollars each year to worthy organizations. Oleson’s Food Stores was nominated by Scott Stegink with MGA Member SpartanNash.
2017 Outstanding Business Partner Lipari Foods: Founder Jim Lipari built Lipari Foods on one core belief: Take care of the customer. Today, success of the company’s strong customer relationships is evident by Lipari’s award nomination. For their “incredible partnership and friendship,” Lipari Foods was nominated by Bryan Neiman, on behalf MGA Member Neiman’s Family Market. “Lipari Foods has been instrumental in our success,” Bryan said. “No matter the request — from late afternoon and special weekend deliveries to creating unique programs, sharing industry knowledge, and helping retailers be first to market with on-trend items — the entire Lipari team gives 200% to make it work for their customers.”
Jim began distributing unique products from the back of his station wagon in the early 1950s. He and his business partner created their own barbecue sauce called Bazzo’s; and later, Jim created Bella Mia Spaghetti Sauce. In 1963, Jim formed Lipari Food Distributors to continue distributing Bazzo’s and Bella Mia, with his big break coming in 1967 when he was named Frank’s Tea & Spice distributor. Jim was soon known as the “spice man,” and his customer base included many independent supermarkets.
In 1971, Jim’s son, Thom, joined the company. Today, Thom is President & CEO, and his sister, Lori Lipari Adams, is Senior Vice President. In 54 years, Lipari Foods has become a leading independent perimeter-of-the-store distributor, delivering a wide range of quality bakery, dairy, frozen, deli, packaging, seafood, meat, grocery, food service, beverage products, confectionery and convenience foods to over 8,000 customers in 14 states. In addition, with over 1,000 employees, Lipari gives back to the community in many ways including partnering with Gleaners Food Bank of Southeast Michigan and Make-A-Wish Foundation, as well as donating to many community and customer-sponsored events.
Both Oleson’s Family Foods and Lipari Foods have made significant contributions to Michigan’s grocery industry. They are active in the Association and have earned the respect and admiration of colleagues and customers throughout the state and beyond. The awards will be presented during the MGA Fall Conference opening dinner, September 17, at Crystal Mountain Resort.